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“All Natural.”

These two seemingly innocent and well-intentioned words are currently creating a big stir.

Following the recent lawsuit that uncovered PepsiCo Inc.’s line of Naked Juices were mistakenly labeled as “All Natural,” these two little words are now receiving widespread attention and much warranted flack, begging the question—what does “All Natural” even mean?

When it comes to food, the definition of “All Natural” varies considerably depending on whom you ask. Believe it or not, some can’t even arrive at a clear-cut definition of any kind, not even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The closest thing to a definition the FDA has established is stated on its website as follows.

“From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

If the FDA isn’t defining what constitutes a food or beverage product’s designation as “All Natural,” who is? Or better yet, is anyone?

In the wake of the lawsuit, PepsiCo Inc. has stated it will drop the use of the word “natural,” that is, at least until there is greater regulatory guidance. This statement in itself brings to light a startling reality that for now the designation remains open to loose interpretation and left up to the individual discretion of the companies doing the labeling.

Where does that leave consumers? Without a clear definition or answer in sight, perhaps it is time for us to reevaluate what it means to fuel our bodies with food that is as close to “All Natural” as we can get.

With that, here are a few simple considerations that can assist us as conscious consumers in redefining what “All Natural” truly looks like, and what it doesn’t.

1. Stay Close to Home: Not only does consuming food that is grown close to home promote sustainability and help fuel local economies; it eliminates the risk of biting in blind. Eating as close to “farm to table” as you can allows you to eat food that is fresh, in season, and nutrient dense. What’s more, it enables you to readily trace your food back to its source, and pinpoint just how many hands have held your food, and what unnatural chemicals, if any, have made contact with your food or surrounding soil during the growing and harvesting processes. Plus, it removes any unnecessary fears and eases your mind of lingering doubts as to whether or not what you are eating has been genetically modified.

2. Think (W)holistically: Unfortunately, whole foods have become increasingly less whole with the addition of outside ingredients used to preserve freshness, appeal to your sweet tooth, or “fortify.” Although it may seem like an overstatement of the obvious, the more whole it is, the closer to natural it remains. Broccoli should contain broccoli. Quinoa should contain quinoa. Peanuts should contain peanuts. To reap the full, nourishing benefits of your food, consider eating wholesome foods primarily in their raw form.

3. Read between the Lines: Artificial substances and synthetic materials can readily disguise themselves amongst an endless amount of terms—terms that are oftentimes difficult to pronounce. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t sound it out, there is a good chance your body is going to have equal trouble figuring out what it is, why it’s there, and how to properly digest it. If you can’t properly identify something on a nutritional information label, play it safe by doing a little homework.

4. Remember Brand Awareness is Key: It’s important to seek out brands you trust—brands whose principles align closely with those of your own. The good news is there are companies popping up left and right who are not only dedicated to crafting the latest and greatest in plant-based foods that taste divine, including meat substitutes so flavorful that they put the real thing to shame, but companies who are equally committed to environmental sustainability and keeping the health of their customers at the forefront of their mission. In fact, you can find many of these companies featured here at One Green Planet.

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